Short-term shelter means lifetime of love

By loving abandoned animals in the short-term, foster families provide them a jump-start on a long, healthy life.

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Foster pets
RALEIGH, N.C. — First came Annie, Benjamin and Casey. But they stayed only long enough to plump up and grow a few weeks older before moving on. Then Duke, Ellie and Finn arrived with the same goals as the ABC triplets. Ginger and Holly stayed a little longer, but then they, too, found a new home.

That’s what success looks like in the Rogers’ household in Raleigh. If the family – Amy, Jack, Will and John Mason – does its job well, the foster pets that pass through their door don’t stay very long. The puppies grow, get the necessary health care and then are adopted into another family that will keep them. By loving the abandoned animals in the short-term, the Rogers family provides them a jump-start on a long, healthy life.

“We’ve always given to the SPCA. It’s just one of those charities we believe in,” Amy Rogers says. “We have always taken in strays, and fostering just took it to the next level.”

She adds, “It was volunteering the boys could be a part of, and we felt like by fostering, we were definitely saving lives.”

The Rogers family already owned one dog and had recently adopted another from the shelter when they went through training with the SPCA of Wake County to become a foster family. Basic training includes topics that range from giving medication to acclimating a family and current pets to the foster kittens or puppies – as well as preparing for the emotional separation when the animals are returned to the Curtis Dail Pet Adoption Center in Garner for another family to love. In addition to the training, experts are on call to deal with behavioral and medical questions, says Mondy Lamb, a spokeswoman for the SPCA of Wake County.

“Fostering is a lot of work,” Lamb says. “It’s a great experience, but it requires a lot of dedication.”

The basic training is intended “to manage expectations and to set people up for success. I like to think of the classes as a bonus that the SPCA offers people,” she says. “If you’re not an animal-care expert but you have the passion and the interest, we can give you the skills to do it.”

For Amy Rogers, that meant the ability to seek advice when their second set of puppies – so tiny that the family expected to feed them with a bottle – refused to eat. One call later and the puppies were lapping up puppy chow reduced to mush in formula and thriving as a result.

“It was messy,” Amy Rogers says.

“So messy,” agrees 6-year-old John Mason.

“But it worked,” says his mom.

Potential foster families are screened, which includes a call to the veterinarian of any current pets. A home visit makes sure the household is pet-ready, with suggestions provided if it’s not. Once a family is approved and trained, they can be called whenever there’s one animal – or a litter – ready to be cared for, sometimes with just a few hours warning.

The Rogers family picked up their first three puppies about a month after finishing training, and the family began naming their foster pets alphabetically.

“The whole foster program for puppies is to get them old enough to be spayed and neutered so they won’t be destroyed,” Amy Rogers says. “There’s going to be a happy ending.”

In the spring and summer, the need for foster families rises for the SPCA and other organizations that foster pets, such as Second Chance Pet Adoptions. Both provide foster families with the needed equipment, from collars and leashes to medical supplies.

While the SPCA usually places adult animals with foster families only if they need special medical care or supervision, Second Chance places dogs and puppies exclusively with foster families, and most of its cats and kittens as well. Both programs strive to place every adoptable pet with a family.

“We never put an animal down to make room for another,” says Brian Darer, president of Second Chance’s board. His organization keeps pets in a foster home as long as possible, “particularly if the foster home has dogs and kids because [those animals] are the most adoptable in the future,” he says. “When a rescue group can say, ‘This foster animal lives with a kid and is obviously good with kids,’ that animal is much more adoptable.”

Both organizations welcome potential foster families throughout the year. “We always need foster homes,” Darer says.

The SPCA of Wake County estimates it has more than 200 animals in foster care at any given time during the peak spring and summer seasons, with 55 foster homes currently available. Second Chance, which has regular Adopt-a-thons, placed about 800 animals last year, almost all of whom go through foster care.

Will Stephens, Amy Rogers' oldest son, says he thought becoming a foster family was a good idea and is glad to help. “I always play with them and fill up their food and water bowls before school,” he says. “It’s more just love and attention.”

After giving so much, letting go can be difficult. “The first set was really hard. They’re so cute, and you watch them grow up,” says Will about returning the foster animals to be adopted. “But you know there’s another set coming.”